Gardai investigated after pepper spray complaints
Dozens of gardai are being investigated for alleged assault or abuse of power when using pepper spray, it emerged today.
The Garda Ombudsman has received 66 complaints - a number of them involving children - about the use of the non-lethal weapons since their introduction last year.
Almost four in every 10 cases brought before the garda watchdog alleges a non-fatal offence, or assault, which for the most part requires a criminal investigation.
Another 26 complaints involve allegations of abuse of authority while a smaller number deal with claims that officers neglected their duty or were discourteous while using the incapacitant spray.
Garda headquarters said the force had used the weapon on 208 occasions to date.
Figures obtained by the Press Association show there were five complaints against the force about pepper spray involving children aged up to 17 years.
A Garda spokesman said it could not comment on any matters before the Garda Ombudsman but suggested pepper spray was reducing assaults on officers.
"Incapacitant spray provides an additional tactical option that may be available to gardai in the resolution of an incident," he said.
"Its use should be seen in the context of the conflict management model as a whole.
"Anecdotal evidence would suggest that its use has reduced the number of 'would-be' physical encounters had it not been available to members."
So far, two-thirds of the complaints remain under investigation while the remainder have been closed because there was no evidence of wrongdoing, it was found there was no misbehaviour or the complaint was withdrawn.
No garda officer has been found to be involved in any wrongdoing so far, and none have been disciplined or suspended from the force as a result of the ombudsman investigations.
The Ombudsman's office also revealed:
- The majority of complaints were from members of the public aged between 18 and 30 years (69pc);
- Some 85pc of complainants were men or boys with the figures suggesting higher incidences of pepper spray use at the weekend;
- Seven in 10 complaints related to incidents between 10pm and 6am;
- Six out of 10 allegations of wrongdoing sprang from an arrest with another 11pc relating to Garda searches. The remaining cases were classified as "other", but the Garda Ombudsman has declined to give details of them.
More than half of the allegations (56pc) relate to alleged incidents in the greater Dublin area - known as the Dublin Metropolitan Region Garda division.
The Garda Ombudsman also refused to release a breakdown of cases in areas outside the capital but insisted the difference between divisions was very small.
The complaints were made to the police watchdog between November 2009 and the end of October this year.
Justice minister Dermot Ahern gave the green light in July last year for every garda officer to be equipped with pepper spray.
Supply of the weapons and training at a cost of almost half-a-million euro was granted the go-ahead after a surge in attacks against members of the force.
Garda Inspectorate chief Kathleen O'Toole had recommended the move in the wake of the Barr tribunal report, which investigated the fatal shooting of John Carthy following a siege in Abbeylara, Co Longford, in 2000.
When used, the pepper spray, which fires a liquid containing compressed chilli powder, causes irritation to the eyes.
The Garda Ombudsman is empowered under the Garda Siochana Act to carry out criminal investigations of officers where there is a serious allegation.